The release of the Agricultural Census a fortnight ago, has shown that the total number of pigs kept in Scotland had dropped from 382,000 to 333,000 since 2008.This is a decline of almost 50,000 in a relatively short space of time.

NFUS Pigs Chairman Jamie Wyllie is worried about those figures and has shared his views on the industry as a whole.

"In my view the decline of pig numbers is largely due to the availability of adequate pig abattoir capacity after the closure of Halls", said Jamie. "This initially resulted in a decline of sow numbers but more importantly pigs are now being moved South to be finished in England, which is a lost opportunity for the Scottish Industry."

During this time, according to AHDB, the average UK indoor unit has reported a profit per pig in the same number of years as it has made a loss. "The wild fluctuations that have been seen in the market over these years have created a very difficult environment for producers to reinvest in new breeding and finishing facilities" commented Jamie.

"Even during these uncertain times, the Scottish Industry, in conjunction with QMS, has been working hard to eradicate pig diseases such as Mange and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). This drive to remove disease from Scottish farms will help make their businesses more resilient. Rather than relying on continued use of antibiotics and vaccines a large number of farms in Scotland have undergone expensive depopulations and repopulations with clean stock, something which they should be commended for."

"Removing disease from Scottish pig farms is an ongoing process and a long term goal for the industry, entirely supported by the Union and the Pigs Committee", he said.

Pig prices are currently low - the SPP EU spec ended last week at 137,96p, meaning that since July last year the price has dropped by 13p per kg. The AHDB reported, in July 2018, a net margin per head of £1 per pig, with the last reported figure at the end of 2018 being -£7 per pig.

"Using AHDB figures you could assume the loss to now be more than that. However the price of wheat has come down since the start of this year by almost £20/t. With 70% of cost feed, this will have an impact for those who have not fixed grain forward", says Jamie.

"For the last two weeks the price has increased by 0.14 and 0.19p per kg respectively which at least is a step in the right direction. The Tribune reported last week that this is due to demand in China. African Swine Fever has decimated so many sows in China that they have had to increase imports of which Europe has been very grateful to supply. The way the disease appears to be going suggests that demand will remain high".

So what does Jamie think the the future holds for the industry?

"If Scotland wants to retain more of the animals it currently produces within its own borders, we will need to increase total slaughter capacity. This could be either at existing sites or a new site entirely with a new supplier and if we want to process more Scottish Pigs, processing capacity would also have to increase both through better utilisation of existing processors and increasing the total capacity within the country.

"Forward thinking is what the industry needs to be able to survive in this volatile market. However, to truly reverse the trend of declining pig number in Scotland, we need to increase our slaughter and processing capacity" Jamie concludes.